Pulling Down the Shutters

One of my favourite blogs out of Melbourne is by a chap named Jeff Sparrow, editor of politics and culture journal

Overland. My reasons for fandom are two fold. Firstly, as Tamil activist in the loosest sense, I have been impressed by Overland’s consistent and nuanced coverage of the Tamil struggle. Secondly, I find myself frequently grateful for the no-nonsense approach Sparrow takes in his blog, particularly on the topic of the publishing industry, which sometimes finds itself victim to analysis by narrow minded, self-congratulatory types. I can’t find it now, but one sentence he wrote somewhere on the internet (perhaps Twitter) will always stick with me:

“there are so many reasons not to write.”

The man speaks the truth! So many reasons not the add to the cacophony. So many reasons to spend your time in other ways: reading, listening, recreating a recipe from Amy Sedaris’ deranged and amazing cookbook I Like You…doing nothing. Most of all, I am enamoured of the idea that writers (indeed, everyone) should constantly be re-evaluating the worth of work we do and whether it still needs doing — however obvious the reasons may seem. To me it is the only way to ensure an honest and useful life.

This is my last Funimist post. As such,  it seems fitting that I reflect a little on the reasons I’ve decided not to continue writing — at least at this URL, on this topic, under this name.

Influential feminist blogs are out there (Jezebel, the F-Word, Feministing) and they are group ones. It has become increasingly obvious to me why that is so.  A single-issue blog can be exhausting to tackle when a topic is so often explicitly emotional, and, frankly, can just as easily be boring to write when you’re basically trying to re-phrase what you’ve been thinking all day. There’s also an inherent feminism to a group blog: a communality that lends itself towards to solidarity and valuable conversations as opposed to singluar ramblings.

My last post was commented on almost exclusively by men. This isn’t just an anomaly, it’s become a trend on this blog and a distressing one, especially given the tenor of the comments themselves: a little silly right through to belligerent and thoughtless. I know women read my blog, because they talk to me about it in person, or I’ll hear about it from a friend of a friend, but they don’t seem to comment. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s starting to feel like it’s too late to reclaim my comments page from the Terribly Clever Boys who have taken over. Again, too exhausting for one person.

Lastly, I’m pretty sick of being the Funimist. We all know there’s  humour in oppression, but fun? Not so much. It was the wrong word to use: limiting, instead of freeing. Disingenuos even, given the kinds of topics a blog like this should cover.

Though I’m unlikely to stop writing about feminism anytime soon, it’s curtain call for the Funimist. I hope this has been a valuable project for youse guys, it certainly has been for me. See you around the Internet.

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The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck by Melissa McEwan

This may be the most straightforward, insightful and affecting work on sexism I have ever come across.

I read it a month ago and was so furious and relieved by it that I bookmarked it and put it aside for another time. I’ve just read it again, and feel exactly the same way, which is incredible but also totally debilitating in terms of commenting on it.

Let me know your thoughts, which will hopefully be more coherent than mine.

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John Safran: Misogynist Until Proven Otherwise

A few nights ago at the Standard, I found myself agreeing with a friend (Zoe, who else?) on the topic of John Safran’s Race Relations (you can watch the whole episode on the ABC website here). Despite my railing, it seems audiences love his personal-essay-on-screen style. Audiences are daft. For example, why do the opening credits imply that the show is going to help us with race relations, but the show itself focuses exclusively on Safran’s experience. Where are the Hindus, dammit?

Nonetheless, this is not the shows fatal flaw. No, the problem with Race Relations is that we have no idea what the man is thinking.

Safran, as many will know, has a very distinctive voice. A weedy twang that we’ve become accustomed to, whether interrupting the indignant stuttering of Father Bob on Triple J or in his previous incarnations versus God, racing around the world or hosting a music jamboree. It is somewhat ironic then, that most of what we’ve heard so far on Race Relations is Safran’s seemingly ironic musings on retro books about intermarriage. Episode Four was no different. The show opens with Safran holding up a book, and explaining its thesis: Asian women are more marriageable as they age better and stay attractive longer. Presumably, that’s ironic right? Presumably we’re supposed to laugh a bit and think, but of course race doesnt’ really have anything to do with longevity of attraction.

Safran then goes about asking four of his ex-girlfriends if they could request their mothers to make out with him, to see how well attraction ages. Logical, I know. Already in the series, Safran has run around like a naughty little boy stealing panties of ex-girlfriends so that he can sniff them blindfolded. He’s also already asked and procured a make out session with an Aryan woman in Anne Franks’ attic. With that in mind, we come to the living rooms of four mothers with their daughters, three of whom end up making out with John Safran on air. Like with most of the series, it’s essentially one sketch where the punchline is “it’s for research, right!”

The first woman hesitates, but agrees in the end. The next seems to consent a little more readily. The third’s reaction isn’t shown. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the last mother, a traditionally dressed non-English speaking Japanese woman declines a kiss on the the mouth, but compromises with a kiss on the cheek.

We’ll never know how many women Safran approached, or how that third woman responded. What we can be sure of is that it’s totally unfair to be asked to kiss a documentary maker, and a former friend of your daughter while the cameras are rolling. Noone wants to be uncooperative, let their daughter down, or indeed, seem uncool on the television.

Now I’m not saying Safran and his team wouldn’t have respected the explicitly stated wishes of anyone they film. They probably did. The bigger issue is that which is less explicit. Did those women feel like props? Do they have partners who might have problems with it? Were they were given time to think about the request? How did the ex-girlfriend who completely freaked out mid-kiss deal with it afterwards? Do any of them regret it?

All this comes back to that problem I raised earlier: Safran’s lack of editorial voice. See, when you ask a rhetorical question like “do Asian women stay attractive longer?”, you also need to equip your audience with an easy and obvious answer. Aside from the one-sketch-ness of it, Safran fails to deliver thoughts on the matter outside “Yes! Definitely prefer the older Asian woman!”. In doing so, Safran fails to convince us that he’s thought about what he’s doing: a unsettling trait when what you’re doing is treating awkward sex acts with the same offhandedness as a lab experiment.

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Hunter S. Thompson and the twilight zone

I have a unfortunate habit of making generalisations, so here’s one for you: tortured aspiring writer boy types have a tendency to dig Hunter S. Thompson. Call it a target market. I’d even hazard a guess as to why. Thompson strikes that elusive space between being similar enough these boys to feel that he’s on their level and different enough to be envied and admired. On one hand he was disaffected, decidedly unprofessional and took drugs and on the other, he’s widely-read, a creative pioneer.

It’s a tendency that shows itself most starkly when you consider Thompson’s personal life. He left behind an immense vault of quirky anecdotes and stained memories with the people he worked with, partied with, married and wrote about. Some of these shards were hashed together in the film “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson” which screened late last year at ACMI. Well-researched and edited, it did a rather attractive job of relating the bottle-a-day, womanising, gun-toting lifestyle of this American Legend and it’s consequences. Of course, with some writers, you can get away from their deeply flawed personalties when you read them, but no, not Hunter — so consistent were his attitudes. so great the ego in his work,

So, it should have been no shock when I read this letter, on the rather excellent blog “Letters of Note” (click on the link for a transcription):

Still, it kinda was. Not only is he abusing this director, this Holly Sorensen character, by calling her a “lazy bitch” (on paper, I might note, instead of giving her a call or paying her a visit), he’s humiliating her in front of what appears to be a number of her colleagues. Abuse. Nothing less. It’s horrendous stuff, particularly to us, a generation of sexual harassment trained, occupational health and safety aware types.

But is it misogynistic? And does it make Hunter S. a woman-hater? There are a number of facts in the “yes” camp. It’s patronising, it’s rude and it’s been written by a man to a woman and CCed to a bunch of men who the author has named as worthy colleagues. Add to that the phrase “Michael Thomas, who is a very smart boy” — subtext “unlike you, you lazy bitch” — and of course the “lazy bitch” line itself, and we’re hardly getting a picture of a chap with respect for women, particularly women in the workplace.

Having said that, the letter was written in 2001 at which point Thompson’s biological age was 65 — pretty much old codger territory. His brain would have been irriversably drug whipped and he wasn’t the most pleasant of men to start off with. While Sorensen’s gender is unavoidably relevant here, I get the feeling Thompson would just as thoughtlessly written the same letter to a man. In fact, I reckon Thomson falls prey to yet another awful stereotype I’ve been bottling up: terribly clever men who spend so much time coping with their own existence, it doesn’t actually matter who you are, you’re less important than they are. I encounter men like this regularly, and at first I think they’re misogynist or racist or whatever, but quite quickly it becomes apparent that they’re not out to make me feel sidelined because of who I am, they’re just working so hard on holding their persona together they can’t afford me or anyone else any genuine attention.

It’s worth noting here that I’m aware how sexist it seems to be stereotyping men, but I firmly believe that women are much more likely to be socialised into considering how their actions affect others, and are thus much less susceptible to this frame of mind, though of course, neither are they totally immune.

Hunter S. Thompson made a name for himself by kicking political correctness up the arse and abandoning all social mores including the barest skerrick of respect for women. It’s like the classic case of the lovably irreverent village drunk who is sitting on everyones shoulders Friday night, but come Monday morning, the townsfolk have gone back to work, all the while tut-tutting the drunk: he’s lost his job, he abuses his wife and golly gosh, he doesn’t have a single functioning relationship left. Hello townspeople, how is meant to be both? I’m not apologising for Thompson’s hideously selfish behaviour, but rather trying to examine what we want modern masculinity to look like when we applaud Thompson in one realm and condemn him in another. A cowboy on paper and a SNAG in person? I’m confused.

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Coke: not misogynist…for now

Twitter users have slammed Pepsi for a recently released iPhone app, labeling it sexist and prompting an apology from the former Britney-faced soft drink manufacturer. Good.

The app provides pick up lines and other relevant information (like vegan restaurant locations) to users, based on the category of girl they are dealing with — “nerd”, “treehugger”, exchange student” etc.

“Our app tried 2 show the humorous lengths guys go 2 pick up women,” Pepsi said. “We apologise if it’s in bad taste & appreciate your feedback.”

Go Market Capitalism! That’s as democratic as it comes, right?

There are two things I want to say about this:

Firstly, I’m not instinctively offended by the app. Of course stereotypes are lazy and demeaning, though it feels more tedious, than downright offensive in this context. Perhaps it’s the fact that so many kinds women are categorised in the app that it seems that noone in particular is being victimised? Or maybe it’s the fact I reckon you could just as easily write a program like this about men–would that be labelled sexist too? More than anything, this kind of marketing plays to the same audience as portrayals of masculinity in Flight of the Conchords–something I have blogged about in the past–or The Game. Such constructions of men as straight, predatory/pathetic (how ever you read it) and sexless are arguably more oppressive than the rather predictable characterisations of women.

Secondly, consider this.

Pepsi’s “Amp Up Before You Score” app prompted a storm of protest on Twitter, with commenters suggesting people drink Coke instead.

Really? Coke? That’s your idea of boycotting of sexist marketing practices, Twitter? Are you so quick to forget:

Good.

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Gaga for Double Standards

Though she denies being a feminist on the basis of loving “male culture–beers, bars and muscles cars” Lady Gaga sure is acting like one. In this video she is quick to pick up on some of the daily double standards women in the music industry face. Also, she has amazing purple hair and says that her current muses are “monsters and play girls”. What does that even mean? Ah, to be an artist…

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Pants: Not Misogynist

Sometimes I feel guilty for this blog. For being flippant and light-hearted, for calling myself the Funimist.  It’s a feeling that became particularly acute when when I read recently that in some parts of the world, pop music isn’t a key indicator of the status of women. Pants are.

North Korea, land of deptosim and nukes, has set fines of around a weeks wages and hard labour as punishment for women who wear pants. The new punishments relate to a decree from 1986:


“The Dear Leader has said national character shows up not only in language, etiquette and morals but in attire as well,” the site said.

Creepy in every known way.

A second section of the article talks about the situation in Sudan, where punishment for a woman wearing pants is 40 lashes of the whip. A journo who was charged for the offence last week has been protesting her punishment, and raising a bit of a ruckus about the human rights violations involved.

Women’s bodies and attire have always been a site of custom, law and expectation, and much of second (and arguably third) waves of feminism sought to dislodge these. It is distressing, though, to see them emerge in such near-comically primitive ways.

My final thought on this issue is not about women, but about how eternally sad I am that men in western countries don’t wear skirts more often. It’s holding them back, that’s all I’m saying.  I wonder what the Dear Leader would say?

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